Are pickups taking over? Historical and recent stats point to a ‘yes’
|driving.ca 22 May 2020 at 10:27|
Rewind one year. Before COVID-19. Before you considered the likelihood automakers’d waive your first six payments. Before you’d debated whether the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit is pronounced “serb” or “kerb.”
Even one year ago, long after the anti-car freight train began steaming across Canada, passenger car sales in 2019’s first-quarter still outnumbered pickup truck sales by more than 30 per cent.
Granted, that’s a far cry from a decade ago — in 2009, cars outsold pickups by more than three-to-one.
Now come back into the bizarre spring of 2020 in which we found ourselves. Through the first three months of this year, everything about the rapid rise of pickups and the hasty demise of cars has accelerated. Pickup truck volume largely held steady at 81,473 units through 2020 Q1 despite the collapse of the overall market in late March; 16 per cent more sales than the entire passenger car market produced.
Pickup truck market share soared to 25 per cent, a five-point boost. Passenger car market share tumbled to just 21 per cent, a five-point loss.
While it’s true that the last year has seen the entrance of new nameplates into the fold – Ford’s Ranger and the Jeep Gladiator – the truck market always boils down to the success of four full-size trucks from three major players: Ford, Ram, and General Motors.
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The Ford F-Series, Ram P/U, GMC Sierra, and Chevrolet Silverado account for nearly 90 per cent of all pickup sales in Canada. With the leading midsize contender (and fifth-ranked truck overall) Toyota Tacoma, five nameplates generate precisely nine out of every 10 pickup sales in Canada.
There’s a lot of consistency in the truck market. But how did this sea change in the market develop? What kind of gains are we actually talking about? How big are the numbers? Have pickups gone from a corner of the market to becoming the market?
We’re going way back to examine the rise of Canada’s five major truck nameplates over the last five, 10, and even 15 years to find out how we got here.
Unique among Canada’s five top trucks, Ford F-Series sales dipped slightly in 2020’s first quarter. It’s not surprising given the COVID circumstances, nor is it surprising in light of the F-Series’ upcoming replacement. By historical standards, however, the F-Series is on track to end 2020 as Canada’s best-selling line of vehicles for a twelfth consecutive year.
In 2008, prior to its current reign, the F-Series produced 4 per cent of all Canadian auto sales. In 2020 to date, that figure stands at nearly 9 per cent. The F-Series is the only vehicle to ever top 100,000 annual Canadian sales (it’s done so every year since 2012) and now brings in more than half of all Ford Motor Company buyers in Canada.
In 2019, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Ram pickup line explored previously unheard-of volume levels for anything not named “Ford F-Series.” Some 96,763 Rams were sold in Canada in 2019, a 14-per-cent year-over-year improvement for a nameplate that actually encompassed two different truck generations.
2020’s second quarter will surely do damage, but through the end of March, Ram was actually on track to break that record in 2020.
The last time auto sales collapsed, Chrysler nearly fell off the map. Only 31,408 Rams were sold in 2009, equal to just 13 per cent of the truck market that year, and 2 per cent of overall auto sales. The Ram’s share of Canada’s truck market now stands at 24 per cent; its share of the overall auto market has tripled since 2009.
Fortunately for General Motors’ light truck brand, last year’s launch of a new generation of full-size trucks is now working out well. Sierra sales were on the rise in Q1. It’s a good thing for numerous reasons, one of which is the fact sales of GMC’s smaller truck, the Colorado, are in the toilet. Q1 volume plunged 29 per cent, and its Chevrolet Colorado twin was down 36 per cent.
The year-over-year comparison is telling, but so, too, is a look way back. Fifteen years ago, GMC was selling barely more than 3,000 Sierras per month over the span of a calendar year. Now, in the slowest season of the year and factoring in the arrival of a global pandemic, GMC sells nearly 4,000 per month.
It’s fitting to consider the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Silverado separately. That’s how General Motors sells its twin pickups. Consider them together, and you’ll see that GM added 840 full-size pickup truck sales in 2020’s first quarter, during a time in which Ford lost nearly 1,600 F-Series sales.
The gap remains distant: Ford outsold the GM twins by 24 per cent in the first three months of the year. Five years ago, the F-Series’ margin of victory was 18 per cent, and a decade ago the margin was just 12 per cent. Yet over the course of those 10 years, GM full-size demand has clearly risen.
It’s just that the 24-per-cent uptick for the Silverado and Sierra pales in comparison to the F-Series’ 48-per-cent surge during the same 10-year period.
Canada’s traditional No. 1 midsize pickup is wildly more popular than it was even by the standards of the recent past. The Tacoma, which garners 33 per cent of Canada’s midsize truck demand, is however once again being challenged by a Ford Ranger, the nameplate that was Canada’s top-selling non-full-size truck up until 2011.
Although Canada’s midsize market isn’t yet back to the glory days of major volume and market share, the Tacoma has scored big in the absence of a deep competitive field. Tacoma sales jumped 186 per cent between 2004 and 2009, rose another 23 per cent over the next five years, and then jumped a further 26 per cent over the last half decade.